• Football

They think it's all over

John Brewin
August 20, 2013
Arsene Wenger's head was ever more in his hands as Aston Villa made hay © Getty Images

Football phone-ins are much discredited these days. What once gave open forum to the fan is now the preserve of white van men, angry Liverpool fans in Cornwall and those strange types who want to change the rules of the game to suit their own obsessions.

It was estimable broadcaster Danny Baker who created and perfected the medium on his "6-0-6" show on the BBC in the early '90s. Everyone since has followed in his wake. The difference with Baker is that he made the callers think by suggesting creative themes at the start of the show. Open-ended discussions, on the other hand, attract the same old dullards on the same dull subjects.

In this writer's opinion, Baker's finest theme was to begin his phone-in after the opening day of the 1992-93 season with these simple questions: "Who thinks their season is done already? Who wishes it could be all over now?" The BBC switchboard was deluged with calls: Hopes for a new campaign can be extinguished in 90 minutes, and often in far less time than that.

Almost every Premier League season sees a team lurch into what seems like instant disaster. Last season saw Queens Park Rangers pumped 5-0 at home to Swansea City to begin their slide toward relegation. The only time they were ever out of the bottom three was in alphabetical order before a ball had been kicked.

Sometimes, there can be false dawns of disaster. Swansea's 4-0 thrashing at Manchester City in their opening match of the 2011-12 campaign set them fair for a season of struggle that never resulted. Soon, they were the darlings of the football hipster, what with their passing of the ball and that.

Who had that sinking feeling on this opening day? There were a few contenders. Swansea might have been concerned if their 4-1 thrashing had not been down to the brilliance of Manchester United's finishing. Cardiff City face a steep learning curve after losing at West Ham but will know that getting Allardyce-ed is possible only twice a season. Sunderland's Paolo Di Canio revolution stalled at home to notoriously poor travellers Fulham. Hull City, with Steve Bruce cuddling up to Jose Mourinho, were curiously complicit in their defeat to Chelsea.

And Ian Holloway seems to be convinced that his Crystal Palace team are not going to get a refereeing decision all season. "It's going to be a long, hard season for me with these people," Holloway said, in ever-dramatic style, after his side's 1-0 defeat at home to Tottenham, courtesy of a Roberto Soldado penalty. "Certain clubs get fouls, and others don't. I've got a horrible taste in my mouth after that."

None of the above situations looks completely irreversible. Holloway may even taste something sweet soon. He will be letting us know when he does. Which leaves Arsenal. Oh, Arsenal. Chickens came home to roost there before the eggs had even had the chance to hatch.

For a club where an annual crisis of confidence is an expected part of the calendar, a new and surely unbeatable record has been set. The clatter of seats tipping up as their angry occupants bailed to the Emirates exits was audible across London. "Spend some money" is the polite version of the most regular refrain aimed at Arsene Wenger. His head was ever more in his hands as Aston Villa made hay.

Just 90 minutes played, and Wenger had his face on -- the one where the lines crag deeper than ever and hooded eyes look somewhere deep into the distance as he defends his position. There was even room for a classic Wengerism: When under fire, he often starts directing questions back to his interrogators.

"We are there to spend money. People say: 'Buy players, buy players, buy players.' But who? You got what you wanted, you should be happy," Wenger said. "Before the start of the season, that was all you write in the papers, so what do you expect?"

The obvious response to that would seem to be that if a bunch of grizzled hacks could see what was coming, why did Wenger not? A vicious backlash resulted, and Baker's descendants on football phone-ins saw their lines jammed by angry Gooners calling for the heads of Wenger, Ivan Gazidis, Stan Kroenke and Gunnersaurus.

One irate supporter went 'viral' when his vein-popping anger was recorded by an Arsenal fans YouTube channel. ESPN FC's own "media luvvy" John Cross was among many to get it in the neck from him.

Those seeking checks and balances to the hysteria might point to a quixotic display from referee Anthony Taylor, an Arsenal injury crisis -- including the serious knee problem suffered by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain -- and the fact that Aston Villa might actually be quite good this season. Although none of that explained Carl Jenkinson.

Reasoning and mitigation are not nearly enough to quieten the doomlords. Panic is setting in ahead of the midweek trip to Istanbul to face Fenerbahce. Suddenly, that happy, happy May day when fourth place was celebrated so rapturously seems a galaxy away.

Who thinks their season is done already? Who wishes it could be all over now?

This year's answer is Arsenal.

John Brewin is a senior editor of ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter at @johnbrewinespn

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